NFL News & Analysis

NFL Week 17 PFF ReFocused: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 44, Atlanta Falcons 27

Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown (81) is congratulated by quarterback Tom Brady (12) after scoring a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons during the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers dominated the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium in Week 17 to win 44-27 and secure the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoff picture. The victory locks the Bucs into a matchup with the NFC East division winner — either the New York Giants or the Washington Football Team.

Bucs WR Mike Evans became the first player in NFL history to record seven straight 1,000-plus-yard receiving seasons to begin his career, though he suffered an injury to his left knee that required him to leave the game. Evans reappeared later on the sideline with a brace on that leg.

Editor's note: All of PFF's grades and advanced stats from this game will be finalized and made available to ELITE subscribers within 24 hours of the final whistle.

Story Of The Game

The Bucs are riding a four-game winning streak with Tom Brady and the offense firing on all cylinders. Brady finished 26-for-41 for 399 passing yards and four touchdowns and repeatedly torched the Falcons' secondary for big chunk plays.

The 43-year-old QB threw the ball 11.8 yards downfield on average, and he now leads the league in completions to targets 20 or more yards downfield (36).

Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown both played their best game of the season in Evans' absence, combining to finish the game with 16 receptions for 271 receiving yards and four scores. Brown has scored in three straight games after suffering a drought over his first five starts.

Tampa Bay’s impressive performance looks even better when considering the team played its regular-season finale without Devin White, Shaq Barrett and Carlton Davis. Although the Bucs defense missed its leading tackler, best pass-rusher and best defensive back, the unit held the Falcons to the same score it did in Week 15 when Tampa Bay had those three starters healthy and playing.

The Buccaneers' run-defense is the ninth-highest-graded unit in the league, but the Falcons’ offense gashed its opponent on the ground for 127 rushing yards today. Fourth-year pro Brian Hill ripped off a 62-yard gain in the fourth quarter, and Atlanta kept the game within one score for a majority of the afternoon until Brady & Co. distanced themselves with under five minutes left.

For as explosive as Tampa Bay looked on offense, the team's defense deserves credit for holding down Matt Ryan. Ryan is the 10th-highest-graded QB in the NFL this season (83.9), and he completed 65.9% of his passes today for 265 yards and two touchdowns. Ryan never threatened the Bucs’ secondary downfield, finishing the game with an average depth of target of 5.3 yards.

In Week 15, Calvin Ridley caught 10-of-14 targets for 163 yards and a touchdown. Ridley had been red-hot entering today’s game, with four straight games of at least 100 receiving yards, though Tampa Bay held the ex-Alabama star in check for eight catches and 52 yards this afternoon.

Rookie Watch

On the Tampa Bay defense, Cam Gill recorded the first sack of his career and the Bucs’ first sack of the day, while teammate Antoine Winfield Jr. made his first NFL fumble recovery.

Tristan Wirfs played every snap on offense for the Bucs and surrendered one pressure for the entire game. Wirfs is the third-highest-graded right tackle in the NFL this season (81.7).

Falcons’ first-round pick A.J. Terrell played 56 of a possible 64 snaps on defense, lining up predominantly at wide corner on the left side. Brady targeted him 10 times, completing three passes for 61 yards.

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